Mike asked:

I thought Mantel succeeded brilliantly in bringing Cromwell to life and describing his inner and outer world. One thing I didn't get was why he is adamantly against the reformation for the first half of the book, then suddenly becomes a fervent advocate for it. Was it just that he wanted to be the king's BFF?

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Heather He's against reformation while Cardinal Wolsey is alive, because he serves Cardinal Wolsey and Wolsey is Catholic. Even then, though, he has "heretic" (Protestant) friends and participates in the smuggling of banned books. He had lived in Antwerp, which was a center of Protestant printing and distribution. He was very skeptical about Catholic institutions like the Papacy, the Holy Roman Empire, and the monasteries - very sensitive to religious hypocrisy, exploitation of the poor, and violence. There's a heartbreaking flashback to a day in his childhood when he saw an old woman burned alive as a heretic. I think his sympathies are basically Protestant, even though he works for Wolsey and sees the Catholic church as essential for England's stability.

After the Cardinal's death, Cromwell becomes more and more the king's man, and works to smooth the way for the king's marriage, which involves breaking from the Pope and declaring a new church with the king as its head.

Cromwell comes across in this book as someone whose own faith is private and skeptical... he treats religion strategically rather than as a matter of belief or conscience. At various times he encourages the Catholic Thomas More AND various Protestant heretics to chill out, go along to get along, keep their faith private and not insist on martyrdom.
Peter Hoff Cromwell always holds that the Bible should be available in translation for everyone to read, but has the prudence not to say so publicly. as the other commenters have pointed out, Cromwell is the ideal courtier, in the Castiglione/Machiavelli sense. He chooses a prince to serve, and then does everything in his power to achieve his prince's will--first Wolsey, then Henry VIII. He will give advice in private, but serve faithfully and loyally. Wolsey wants to get Henry a divorce, but believes he can achieve it through traditional channels via the Church of Rome. When Wolsey fails and falls, Cromwell chooses, and is chosen by, Henry. Free from Wolsey's will, he sees a way to achieve Henry's wishes by following the example of Reformation rebels and breaking from the Church of England. Mostly this just involves keeping almost all the old religious dogma, but declaring the Church of England's independence from the Pope and the Vatican, with the King as Defender of the Faith in England. Not that this is an easy task, as the next twelve or so decades of English history will demonstrate. For Henry, this is a personal, national, and fiscal coup, and it paves the way for him to continue seeking a male heir for the English throne. The whole matter reinforces Mantel's position that Cromwell was largely responsible fro bringing the Italian Renaissance and the Reformation to England.
Judith_Rex Cromwell witnesses the end of the burning of a "heretic" when a lad, which is put there to show his introduction the harsh sentences sometimes meted out to free thinkers by the Gov't and the Church. He is also later described as having friends who were pro the Bible in English, a big no-no then though sort of silly to us today, and this is during Wolsey's lifetime. I think he only became active when he had the power to do something about his beliefs, and because he was afraid he and his friends were all going to be severely punished by More. So his beliefs were sincere and not solely due to Henry, more like enabled by Henry.

This is all in the context of the book and I am unsure where the lines blur between real experience by Cromwell and what has been offered by Mantel.
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by Hilary Mantel (Goodreads Author)
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